In the wake of the recently concluded peace agreement between the Filipino government and MILF, several eyebrows have been raised as to what is the result of MILF’s struggle for a separate state.
I remember having met Ustaz Salamat Hashim, founder of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a youth camp where I was a participant, in Lahore, Pakistan, in the year 1986. Ustaz Salamat was an Islamic scholar, activist and a fine military strategist. He died in the year 2003 at the age of 61. Most of his life was spent in the Mindanao jungles or in exile. The Muslims of Mindanao region in the Philippines have a long history of independence struggle. The fight of Mindanao Muslims against Ferdinand Magellan started in 1521 and continued, first against Spaniards, then against Americans, and since 1946 they have been fighting the Filipino government. The Muslims did not want to be a part of the Philippine state. Before the creation of MILF, Ustaz Salamat was a frontline deputy in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Prof. Nur Misuari. MNLF was founded in 1969 and MILF in 1977.
Back in 1986, influenced by stricter interpretations of Islamic text we believed separation is the only solution for the daunting problems Muslims of the Philippines, Kashmir and Eritrea were facing. But later we came to realize that Islam did not come to divide people on racial or geographical lines but to unite them. The Qur’an talks about the unity of God (Tawheed) at great length and at the same time it also talks about the unity of mankind. Qur’an addresses every member of the human family as its audience. The following Qur’anic verse puts this notion succinctly:
Human beings, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware….(Al Hujurat:13).
The above Qur’anic narration is being strengthened by the following Hadith:
Thank Allah Who has removed from you the blemish of ignorance and its arrogance. O people, men are divided into classes: the pious and righteous, who are honourable in the sight of Allah, and the sinful and vicious, who are contemptible in the sight of Allah, whereas all men are the children of Adam and Adam had been created by Allah from clay. (Baihaqi, Tirmidhi).
These instructions of the Qur’an and Hadith form the foundation of universal Islamic brotherhood. Islam is an Ummah, a universal nationhood, not a nation based on narrow pedals of identities such as race, tribe and ethnicity. Dividing people and nations on such narrow lines were sowed by Europeans in the first place during the last century. Two prominent Islamic scholars coming into the picture when discussing the issue of blind nationalism. Moulana Maududi and Imam Bediuzzaman had warned their nations not to fall into this European trap and lose their Islamic identity. They described nationalism as antithesis of Islam.
In giving exegesis to the above Qur’anic verse Maududi explains: “….In this verse the whole of mankind has been addressed to reform it of the great evil that has always been causing universal disruption in the world, that is, the prejudices due to race, colour, language, country, and nationality. On account of these prejudices man in every age has generally been discarding humanity and drawing around himself some small circles and regarding those born within those circles as his own people and those outside them as others. These circles have been drawn on the basis of accidental birth and not on rational and moral grounds. In some cases their basis is the accident of being born in a particular family, tribe, or race, and in some particular geographical region, or in a nation having a particular colour or speaking a particular language.
Then the discrimination between one’s own people and others is not only confined to this that those who are looked upon as one’s own people are shown greater love and cooperation than others, but this discrimination has assumed the worst forms of hatred, enmity, contempt and tyranny. New philosophies have been propounded for it, new religions invented, new codes of law made and new moral principles framed; so much so that nations and empires have made this distinction a permanent way of life with them and practised it for centuries…..” (Tafhim Al Qur’an, Surah Hujurat: 13).
Moulana Maududi, had indeed opposed the creation of Pakistan in its initial stages on the basis of this Islamic principle. He argued that Muslims should engage in intense Da’wah in the undivided India, instead of creating an exclusive enclave for themselves. However, when its founding loomed inevitable, as a pragmatist, he moved to strengthen his base in Pakistan.
On the other hand, Imam Bediuzzaman, explains the above verses from a different perspective as, “ nationalism is of two kinds: one is negative, inauspicious and harmful; it is nourished by devouring others, persists through hostility to others, and is aware of what it is doing. It is the cause of enmity and disturbance. This is the reason the Hadith states that Islam has abrogated what preceded it and put an end to the tribalism of the Jahiliyah (Reported by Bukhari). ………Positive nationalism arises from an inner need of social life and is the cause of mutual assistance and solidarity. It gives rise to a beneficial strength, and is a way of reinforcing Islamic brotherhood”(Risale Nur – 26th Letter).
On the issue of separation, though it is an issue for the scholars of the Ummah to deliberate, we have to reflect on the achievements of Philippines and Kashmiri separatist movements. After a protracted struggle and loss of enormous human and material resources, MILF has come to abandon its separatist demand. If this is the case, why the struggle for separation was launched in the first place? Voices of separation are rising from the minerats of Chechnya and Uighur province of China.
In all cases, if one thing has increased, that is none but misery of the ordinary folks. The ruthless Russian military apparatus smashed Chechnya to the ground. The Uighur struggle is led by a woman, Rabia Kadir from her base in the US. She is being accused of working according to a CIA agenda, not an Islamic one. India has amassed a brutal regiment in Kashmir to suppress voices of separation.
All these are clear indications that a section of the Ummah is at a loss in organizing its priorities and understanding Islamic principles from a broader perspective.
Viewing from the perspective of Surah Hujurat’s instructions, separation on geographical boundaries and ethnic considerations are too narrow an ideology. Islam is broader and generous, away from constricted worldly considerations. It strives for the salvation of entire mankind from eternal peril; it does not promote isolating groups of Muslims for salvation to the exclusion of the larger human family. This is the lesson we learn from Surah Hujurat’s verses.
Now as the MILF has come to terms with living in a united Philippines, it is high time for its leadership to invest its energy and resources in building an exemplary Muslim society which is based on high Islamic moral and professional standards, which maintains a moderate balance between Dunya and Akhirah.
The following is an eye-opening wisdom: Seek by means of the wealth that Allah has granted you the Abode of the Hereafter, but forget not your share in this world and do good as Allah has been good to you…..(Al Qasas: 77)
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